After a museum opens, and after the staff recovers from the proceeding 3-4 years of sleepless nights, they start looking at what needs to change or is missing.  Cook Museum contacted us in this phase about an exhibit they had wanted to do, but time never allowed.

This exhibit dives into the amazing microscopic structures inside a bird feather.  In particular, how birds are able to keep their feathers flight ready.

Feathers have fascinating microscopic hooks, barbules and barbs that act like Velcro to keep the feather stitched together.

Starting from the base of the quill, embedded in the bird’s skin, a feather branches off of the shaft into barbs, and from there into hooks and barbules.  The hooks grab onto the barbules from the opposite barb.

If the hooks come loose the feather surface splits apart and is no longer aerodynamic and able to generate lift.  Birds use their beaks and tongues to run down the length of their feathers while preening to “zipper back together” the hooks and barb.  This keeps them flight ready and looking good!

The interactive we built for Cook Museum recreates a small part of a feather with a live physics simulation of how the hooks and barbules lock together.  Visitors can move a touch screen slider to open and close the barbs and see how the mechanism works.  There are also buttons for digging deeper into the science of feathers and bird flight.